The rise of Ishan Kishan: From small-town boy to the most expensive cricketer in IPL 2022 mega auction

The year was 2011. MS Dhoni was at the peak of his powers, leading Indian cricket team across formats and firmly on the road to its greatest moment since 1983. Coming from Ranchi, and going on to lift the ODI World Cup, this was the quintessential superstar story.

Viewed from the periscope of Indian cricket though, this wasn’t just a rags-to-riches journey. Instead, Dhoni’s story was part of a grander tale. His glory was the epitome of how Indian cricket had progressed in that particular decade – a clutch of stars who had come from tier-two towns and given a new lease of life to this country’s beloved game. It was almost a foreshadowing of how power had shifted from the traditional metropolitan centres and that these tier-two towns would continue to throw up future Indian cricketing stars.

It was during that time, 2010-11, a family in Patna (Bihar) decided to traverse this arduous path. Their youngest had shown glimpses of talent and the promise of a higher destiny. A lack of proper cricketing structure in that state, combined with a fractured relationship with the BCCI, meant a serious cricketing journey needed to be pursued elsewhere. Ranchi wasn’t too far away, and it had already thrown up a global superstar. And so, 12-year-old Ishan Kishan packed up his cricket kit and made the move.

Ishan Kishan is the second most expensive Indian player in the history of IPL auctions. Image: Sportzpics for IPL

Uprooting an entire family in pursuit of a dream that may or may not come to fruition isn’t the easiest task. There is a reason why Indian society boasts of disproportionately more engineers, doctors and MBAs for every professional artist and/or sportsperson. In the current climate, 2022 i.e., there is more acceptance of such non-traditional occupations or even pursuit of an ambitious dream. Imagine the scenario more than a decade earlier – it was still a tougher ask.

Kishan’s family though believed in him. He had already represented Patna/Bihar in the All India School Games. On moving to Ranchi, SAIL quickly snapped him up for the district tournament. By age 15, Kishan was already making waves – a Ranji debut for Jharkhand, followed by Under-19 captaincy at the 2016 World Cup under coach Rahul Dravid.

India didn’t win that tournament but perhaps Kishan and his family had felt closer to their dream. It is easy to get lost in the Indian domestic cricket circuit – it is a wilderness where you are trying to hack your way forward along with thousands of others, season after season. How many are able to make the cut, or even step up to senior cricket, fight off the limelight and perform under sustained pressure? What is that number, year after year? You can perhaps count on one hand.

An Under-19 World Cup has just finished in the Caribbean, with an Indian win for the fifth time. For the likes of Yash Dhull, Raj Bawa and others, it bought them a ticket to the IPL auctions. This is how the Indian domestic cricket structure has shaped up in the last decade. While performance with the red ball is still the bedrock of any youngster’s future prospects, the Indian Premier League buys you a ticket to the big league. From there, you are thrust into the limelight, rubbing shoulders with global stars, and pursuing the biggest dream on the grandest T20 stage.

Kishan benefitted from this as well, snapped up by Gujarat Lions in 2016 for INR 35 lakh (base price INR 10 lakh). This was a trial-by-fire for him as he was part of a franchise that would go defunct in two years. He did enough though – 48 off 35 balls against Mumbai Indians in a tied game that Lions lost in the Super Over. No other batter, including Suresh Raina, Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch, Dinesh Karthik or Ravindra Jadeja, crossed 30.

The best way to grab attention in the sporting arena is to challenge the best. Push them out of their comfort zone and they will notice you. It was quite literal in this particular case – Mumbai Indians bought Kishan in the 2018 IPL auctions for a whopping INR 6.2 crore (base price INR 40 lakhs). For comparison sake, Punjab Kings (erstwhile KXIP) had bought KL Rahul for INR 11 crore in that same auction. Is it any surprise that Mumbai have now made Kishan the richest cricketer in IPL 2022 with INR 15.25 crore?

Kishan’s story is unique because it wasn’t forged in the IPL arena alone. His cricketing prowess stood the test of domestic rigours, multiplying IPL exploits with super performances in the Ranji arena, and that is precisely why Mumbai Indians broke the bank for him – twice in four years. Take the 2016-17 domestic season for example. He smashed a Ranji record 273 against Delhi, and then followed up with 484 runs in six matches for Jharkhand in 2017-18.

He has been good against both, the red and white ball. In 2018-19, he top-scored in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, and scored back-to-back centuries in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Perhaps the turning point in his career came on 20 February 2021, when he smacked 173 against MP as an opener. Jharkhand notched up 422-9, highest in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, and then he followed it up with seven catches, most by a keeper in List A. Shortly afterwards, he was in the India squad to face England.

Thereafter, Kishan brought his chutzpah to international cricket. In Pune, he smacked England for 56 off 32 balls, filling in as an opener for Rohit Sharma. In Sri Lanka, fours months later, he smacked 59 off 42 balls on ODI debut. His statement post-match is etched in memory. “I was determined to hit the first ball for six”, Kishan said in Colombo.

This fearless attitude helped Mumbai Indians win the 2020 IPL. Kishan top-scored with 516 runs in 14 matches, the fifth-highest in the season. Mumbai’s second-best was Quinton de Kock (503 in 16 matches) with two extra games. Did anybody really expect them to let go of a championship winner?

Cynics might argue that Mumbai overpaid considering the auction dynamics. Perhaps they could have retained him at a lower price. It was tough for Mumbai to do that – Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah were obvious top-two picks. Retention rules then didn’t allow for higher pay for the third player, certainly not above INR 10 crores. It was a situation wherein both the franchise and the player knew the true worth of this transaction, and considering it was a mega auction, Indian cricketers come at a higher premium than most others.

The highest bid of the 2022 auction from Mumbai Indians for Kishan proved all his travails and his family’s sacrifices have come to fruition. In exchange, they got a multi-faceted cricketer, a multi-purpose batter, a power-hitter, a starry-eyed youngster, a brand magnet, a first-choice keeper, a future franchise captain and an Indian superstar in the making. Seems like a bargain!

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